Control Technology at CES - ResidentialSystems.com

Control Technology at CES

This year's CES was, as always, a little overwhelming and there is much to report.
Author:
Publish date:

The first device worth talking about is a smart display from ViewSonic(www.viewsonic.com), named air panel. Officially, it is a "wireless touchscreen monitor intended for remote mobile use throughout the home." Available in 10-inch and 15-inch versions, air panels use 802.11b wireless technology to connect to a PC providing always-on, anytime, mobile access to a PC. Air panels are based on Windows CE and boot up in three seconds. Apparently, the 15-inch version can replace the clunky monitor of a desktop, and you can simply pick it up and go anywhere in the house. Retailing for around $1,000 to $1,300, these smart displays are purported to be available now.

The coolest new product I saw was from Universal Electronics Inc. (www.uei.com). Their product, called Nevo (www.MyNevo.com), "is an embedded solution that transforms any electronic display into a sophisticated and easy-to-use wireless home control and automation device." UEI says that Nevo controls an unlimited number of home entertainment and home automation devices, provides an intuitive touchscreen visual interface, has a customizable favorites page, has personalized channel listings with search and sort, built-in web browsing with simultaneous TV and web surfing, supports multiple users and rooms, allows the addition of new devices on the fly with an intuitive wizard, has a customizable graphical interface, boasts an IR library with more than 110,000 IR codes for more than 1,500 brands of consumer electronic devices, includes IR learning from original remote controls and more. Currently Nevo comes on both ViewSonic's air panel smart display (above) and HP's iPAQ pocket PC (three models). UEI developed the Philips Pronto, so obviously they are no newcomers to the business. Based on what I saw in UEI's booth and what they say, it promises to be the hottest new control technology on the market. It caters to a consumer market in a way that allows it to become the de-facto standard.

Next on the list is another product from UEI, called the Kameleon (www.kameleon.com), that can control up to six devices. It is a blue and silver, brightly lit, animated, light-weight, sleek hand-held remote control that utilizes "digital ink" to dynamically change its appearance and functionality (illuminating only the active keys) to match the home entertainment environment. When you press the buttons on Kameleon, there is a distinct tactile feel as if you were pressing buttons on a normal remote, but the buttons change as if it were a touch panel. Kameleon boasts connectivity software to insure the best brand coverage worldwide, macros, favorite channel scan, upgradeability (via your telephone), IR learning and more. It is available for less than $60 from Radio Shack, and you can see a good demo at www.uei.com/kameleon/demo.html.
Next on the list is another hand-held remote control from Intrigue Technologies named Harmony (www.harmonyremote.com). There are two versions of this remote, one that is simple and will likely appeal to the technology-intimidated users and the other version being full-featured. Both remotes include a small LCD display at the bottom that is used to display available selections that are both scrolled and selected with a convenient thumb wheel. Harmony is "Internet powered" in that users connect it to their PC via a USB cable and download its programming from the Web.

Users can visit Harmony's website, specify their device's manufacturer and model number and system configuration then download the resulting programming information into the remote. This includes TV station listings based on zip codes and allows you to "surf" TV shows in your hand and "not annoy other people in the room." Harmony automatically creates macros required to turn on all the devices in your system when needing to turn on more than one for any reason. In the event that something goes wrong and one of the devices does not turn on, Harmony uses "Smart State Technology" which simply allows users to re-synchronize the device with the remote. Users press a help button that easily walks them through the process of correcting the out-of-sync device. Harmony remotes are available for sale in retail stores, through distributors and on the Web. The simple version (SST-748) sells for $199 and the advanced version (SST-768) sells for $299. Both versions of Harmony were being sold at the show for about 60 percent off list price, and I witnessed several show attendees buying them on the spot.

Another handheld remote control for the mass consumer market was the Sima (www.simacorp.com) universal IR remote control (model SUR-35). It features an LCD touchscreen, control of up to 16 devices, programmability, IR learning, macros and a six- to 12-month battery life. It retails for $149. It is very Pronto-like yet very affordable and can be purchased via their website.

One non-consumer item that was interesting was a small device from Lantronix that converts RS-232 serial to TCP/IP. The device was only about as large as a thumb, which was mostly the RJ45 connector. It can be placed on the board of A/V devices. Lantronix booth personnel said that they are trying to market it to manufacturers of A/V devices like Sony, Panasonic, etc. This will allow them to have a TCP/IP ethernet port in place of an RS-232 serial port. Although there are not many consumer-level A/V devices with RS-232 control, perhaps these manufacturers will completely skip to TCP/IP and give us all what we want: real control and feedback from typical devices.

The product of the day appears to be some kind of MP3 converter/player and there was no shortage of those. Barix (www.barix.com) introduced a small-footprint box that will connect to a 10/100 MBit network on one side via RJ45 and the stereo inputs of an A/V device on the other side via RCA connectors. Users can stream MP3 files from the PC because it appears as a mapped network drive to their receiver. The box retails for under $200 and there is a wireless 802.11b version as well. It can be controlled via control software (Premise SYS presumably since it was shown in the Lantronix booth) or a typical web browser.

Of course, there were many booths that I never had a chance to visit, so I know that I missed more cool stuff. But, I will have to settle for this small sample until next year's show when I will likely have the same problem of too much to see and not enough time.

Mark Scovel (mark@axiomdesign.com) is CTO of Axiom Design Inc., in Pleasanton, California.

Related